- Book: Death on the Canal
- Location: Amsterdam
- Author: Anja de Jager
Today I’m traveling by book to my adopted hometown of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Death on the Canal is the third book in a series of crime fiction novels following Dutch detective Lotte Meerman on her investigations.
What appears to be the straight forward stabbing of a drug dealer quickly becomes a more complex case involving suspects withholding information, a missing child, dead junkies, misguided avengers, and lots of red herrings. Each piece of new evidence shifts the focus of Lotte’s investigation onto another suspect.
The story’s pace is relatively slow as we follow along on the murder investigation and learn about the difficulties police encounter when tracking down suspects, clues and potential connections. Towards the end, I wasn’t sure if the author was adding in so many dead-ends and false clues to try and hold the reader’s attention, or to illustrate how convoluted a case can be for a real police detective.
Though this is a murder mystery, the focus of the story is on the interpersonal relationships within the police department and Lotte’s private life. She’s pretty messed up thanks to the death of her child, failed marriage, drinking problems, and current man trouble.
The first seventy pages are primarily backstory, which was sometimes difficult to follow because I haven’t yet read the first two novels in the series. This does seem to be a series better read in order. Still, I was able to understand most of the connections between the characters and storylines.
The text is peppered with glimpses of Amsterdam, as well as Dutch politics and society. Since moving to this city – a popular setting for crime fiction writers – I’ve become quite critical of the descriptions of it. This novel was clearly written by someone who has biked and walked the city streets – even those neighborhoods outside of the tourist-filled center – which greatly enhanced my reading pleasure.
There are references to Dutch politicians such as the ultra-conservative Geert Wilders, the abundance of rainbow flags in August for Pride Month, government-approved euthanasia, and current immigration policies. I particularly enjoyed her account of the annual Gay Pride Canal Parade. Even Baantje, a well-known series of crime fiction novels which were made into a popular television series, is mentioned. I found this interesting because these books were written by a retired Dutch detective who used actual cases as the basis for his fiction, as Anja de Jager uses her father’s old case files as the basis for her crime fiction. (And her father, according to her biography, is a retired Dutch police detective.)
To me, the most interesting aspect of this novel was the author’s use of a recent rash of drug overdoses as the basis for Lotte’s investigation. As she explains in the acknowledgements, in 2014 and 2015 white heroin was being sold as cocaine and a number of tourists died. The Dutch government’s response was to place large signs all over the city warning tourists about this fake coke and urging them to get their drugs tested (for free) before snorting. As an American, this was completely surreal to see these signs everywhere. It was fascinating to see this actual case fictionalized and re-live this strange time.
Considering all the media attention and hype this book and series had received, I had high expectations. Don’t get me wrong; it’s well written. However, perhaps because I kept waiting for a gripping plot twist, I felt a bit let down after finishing reading it.
All in all, Death on the Canal is a good detective novel firmly set in contemporary Amsterdam.